Ravens hold fort on left, sign Mulitalo


As left guard Edwin Mulitalo signed his new long-term contract at the Ravens' practice complex yesterday, his wife flashed a wide smile.

Also happy should be the player for whom Mulitalo opens holes.

"Jamal Lewis is sleeping well tonight, I'm sure," said offensive line coach Jim Colletto, referring to the Ravens' star running back.

The Ravens retained a big punch in their running attack when they signed Mulitalo to a seven-year extension that will keep the left guard from becoming an unrestricted free agent. The deal is worth $15.5 million and includes a $4 million signing bonus.

Mulitalo has teamed with tackle Jonathan Ogden to form a dominating left side of the offensive line. With that combination in the starting lineup, the Ravens have a 32-20 record (.615) and have never ranked lower than 16th in rushing.

"Having him here now with Jonathan, I don't know of any two guys, playing side by side in the NFL, better than these two guys," Colletto said. "If I'm going to run the ball, I'm going to run over to his side."

Signing a player at the end of February has become a rarity because so many want to see what their worth is in free agency. But Mulitalo was adamant about staying, and the Ravens gave him a market-value deal for above-average guards.

Last year, Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca raised a few eyebrows when he signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers for six years and $26.25 million ($6 million signing bonus).

But Mulitalo's contract is comparable to the deals given last season to the Houston Texans' Steve McKinney (five years, $15.5 million and a $3.5 million signing bonus) and the Chicago Bears' Rex Tucker (seven years, $20 million and a $4.5 million).

"There was really no issue on where I wanted to be," Mulitalo said. "I didn't want to leave the offensive line that I play with and the coaching staff. This is where I felt at home. Hopefully I got that message across through the season. I think everything has worked out well."

In particular, Mulitalo didn't want to play beside anyone other than Ogden, a perennial All-Pro. Ogden is signed through 2006.

"Obviously, someday he's going to be there with the greats," Mulitalo said. "You'll see his picture in the Hall of Fame, and right next to him maybe you'll see my jersey number. That's going to be my proof that we played together."

With an estimated $16 million in cap room to spend on unrestricted free agents, the Ravens took their first step in adding to their roster. But it most certainly won't be their last.

"We're in a position now, looking forward to the next few years and looking at our cap situation, to be able to hold onto our own," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "That's a priority for us. We consider Edwin one of those key elements in going forward, and we're thrilled to have this done.

"To me, it's the kickoff to what I think is going to be a real exciting offseason."

NOTES: Brandon Stokley has informed team officials that he will test the free-agent market. The Ravens had an offer on the table for Stokley, their fourth-leading receiver last season. ... The team is scheduled to talk with the agent for linebacker Cornell Brown next week. Brown was the team's ninth-leading tackler last season. ... Ravens officials are negotiating with offensive tackle Ethan Brooks. ... The team has not contacted the agent for Jermaine Lewis, but remain interested in their former Pro Bowl return specialist.

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